Posts Tagged ‘L pod’

Identity Crisis and Good Luck Charms

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

What an amazing trip we had today! The wind was minimal, the water was like glass, and the guests were fabulous. The wildlife was simply “steller” as well. In fact, we actually saw a male and female Steller Sea Lion on Whale Rocks at the south end of San Juan Island right off of Cattle Pass! Steller Sea Lions aren’t seen as frequently as our Harbor Seals and can weigh up to two ton! Aimee and I were quite pleased with the sighting.

After watching the Sea Lion, Captain Mike wanted to visit his favorite whales- the Minkes. As always, I just wanted to see the Killer Whales, but we chugged out to Salmon Bank anyway. It sure is a good thing too, the Minkes were everywhere! They surrounded us for about twenty minutes coming up just yards from all sides of our boat! They were lung feeding so we got a clear view of their pleats of baleen as well (all 500-700 strands of it)! I was certainly amused, and was even sad to leave them to go catch up with our Southern Resident Killer Whales. Who would have thought, me, sad to go see the Orcas!? Those Minkes sure did the trick!

When we got to our three family members, L-22, L-79 and L-89 were there waiting. As I’ve said in previous blogs, you really need to keep your eye on Spirit- L-22. She never ceases to surprise me. As soon as we got close, she lept right out of the water in a full breach. It looks to me like she is very much enjoying all of the attention she is getting. Throughout our time with her and her two sons (Skanna and Solstice), Sprit proceeded to breach, tail slap, and provide us all with amazing views. I’m really starting to develop a soft spot for her.

We also had a Minke in the group of Killer Whales that seemed to be having somewhat of an identity crisis. It was swimming with the L-Pod members and coming close to our boat as well. It became clear when the Minke whale jumped clear out of the water in a breach that this whale was having some serious misidentification issues. I’ve been watching whales since I was six. I have NEVER seen a Minke whale breach. Minke whales spend about 90% of their time under water, seeing one breach was incredibly rare. Amy and I were literally hopping for joy!  We were all elate! We firmly believe that our guests on board tonight were our good luck charms. It was a night like no other (as they all seem to be). Captain Mike was especially happy with the show; Minke whales are after all, his favorite. I hope to see each and every one of my readers on the water soon to share in these magical moments!!!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

L-Pod on the 4th!

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Happy Forth of July everyone! It has been a fantastic day so far! We left our Friday Harbor location and headed out to the west side of the island near False Bay where we met some of our L-Pod members. Spirit, Skanna, and Solstice were there feeding on the Chinook Salmon that are slowly retuning back to the Salish Sea. Our Southern Resident Orcas will stay with their mother and family group their whole life; this means that our Orcas here have matriarchal societies. Spirit is Skanna and Solstice’s mother!

The whales were having a great time feeding and doing some tail slapping; it is great to have them back in the area again! Since we were right off of Lime Kiln Lighthouse, it was just as fast to go around the north side of the Island; therefore, our guests got to see all of San Juan Island! Along our way around the island, we saw Harbor Seals, Harbor Porpoise, and even a mated pair of Bald Eagles and their nest! Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Mother Nature Gears Up For The 4th.

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

4th of July is right around the corner and the whales are here to help celebrate! Captain Craig, Andrew, and myself had two great trips today. We started the day off right with brilliant blue skies and not a cloud in sight. Our afternoon trip had a boat full of eager passengers ready to spot some resident orcas. With binoculars at the ready, we cruised along the west side of San Juan Island till we encountered a subgroup of L Pod. The group we watched for the remainder of our afternoon trip included: Spirit, L-22, and her two sons, Skana, L-79, and Solstice, L-89. We watched as this family foraged until it was time to head back in and get ready for our evening trip!

Unlike our afternoon trip, the evening trip had much more tempestuous seas heading south out of Friday Harbor. As we were passing through Cattle Pass, crew and passengers got to experience first hand just how fickle Mother Nature can be. Outfitted with bright yellow rain slickers, and holding on tight to railings, we were ready to brave the high seas in search of  L Pod. Once we passed Cattle Pass and made our way up past False Bay, the seas changed dramatically. Gone were the rocky seas, and replaced with glassy water. We were able to watch the same group of L Pod that we saw earlier in the day in smooth seas. Everyone, including the crew, was happy with the change! Instead of heading back into the tumultuous seas, Captain Craig took us north around San Juan Island. This gave passengers a full tour around San Juan Island! It was a great trip to be able to see all of San Juan, and also how drastic the change in seas can be from one location to the next! Aside from my very wet shoes, it was a great day on the water!


Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Stellar Sea Lions and L Pod Spotted!!

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

On our sunset tour today, Captain Mike, our guests, and I got to spend our evening enjoying a subgroup of  L Pod right off the west side of San Juan Island. They greeted us right off of Eagle Point and slowly meandered back and forth searching for Chinook Salmon. For the most part they stayed off in the distance minding their own business until suddenly the changed direction underwater and surfaced near our boat, rewarding us with a few tail slaps. Our passengers had their cameras poised and ready for the action and were able to walk away with some great shots of our resident orcas. Our guest were not only rewarded with a unique look at the residents, but they also got a rare glimpse of two Stellar Sea Lions! Generally, Stellars migrate up north towards Alaskan waters during this time, so it was great to see a few this late into the summer. Overall, it was a beautiful day on the water with great company! Can’t ask for much more!


Caitlin, Naturlist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris


Best Trip Ever !

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

As the sun was looming low in the sky, the Sea Lion headed out once more to show our guests a wonderful time with our Southern Resident Killer Whales. We headed out through the whirling up-wells in the San Juan Channel and met our whales in Cattle Pass. We met them with as much excitement as they appeared to be feeling! Some L-Pod members were in the Pass; they were already breaching, tail slapping, and traveling close together. They swam increasingly close to Goose Island, jumping out of the water, rolling over onto their backs, cartwheeling through the water … it was amazing!

The whales jumped and carried on around Goose Island and were heading south to meet up with more of L-Pod. Two family groups were coming together and were about to collide with power and enthusiasm. Captain Mike re-positioned the boat and we waited in anticipation for the two groups to meet, and when they did it was spectacular! I’ve read that when two family groups, or pods, meet up they celebrate. This was certainly the case, and it was the best celebration I’ve ever witnessed as a naturalist. Whales were breaching out of the water in synchronicity, three at a time sometimes, tail slapping, rolling, spyhoping etc. Calves were breaching with excitement, and continued to do so long after the older females began to settle. We even heard them all vocalizing when we dropped the hydrophone into the water. If I could understand Orca, I would say they were happy to be reunited!

I felt very fortunate to whiteness this family gathering. This was the best example of how intelligent and social these graceful beings are. We are just now beginning to understand how deep our Resident Orcas social structure and culture is rooted in them. They have traditions and vocalization styles all of their own, it is unique. It is thought that these family’s have inhabited the Salish Sea since the last ice age and it shows. What myself, Captain Mike and our guests saw tonight was a small part of history in the making. It was magical.

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

Whales and Lighthouses.

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Today, Captain Jim and myself, got to spend our afternoon a little differently since we had a charter on the M/V Kittiwake. This charter was special because we got a great family from Chicago, Illinois, who had an affinity for lighthouses! I got to “wow” them with my endless knowledge of lighthouses, or at least about the lighthouses on San Juan Island. As we took a leisurely drive along the west side of San Juan Island, we were able to see both Cattle Point and Lime Kiln Lighthouses. Both of these lighthouses are run on solar energy, and are completely automated. Lime Kiln was the last of the lighthouses to be fully automated in 1950, when they finally made the switch from incandescent oil vapor lamp to an electric bulb. Lime Kiln is also the site of Lime Kiln Whale Watching Park! Today was a great day for those frequenting the shores of Lime Kiln, as well as our passengers aboard, when we came across a large group of L Pod. Not only did we get to take a closer look at lighthouses but we also got to see L Pod breaching! All in all, a great day to spend our Saturdays.

Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

They’re Back !!!

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Yes, you read that right! L-Pod is back, and all of them! There was lots of excitement from crew and passengers alike when we heard the reports of L-Pod earlier today, and even more when we saw them!The whales were off the south end of Vancouver Island, BC and it’s a good thing they were headed into the Straight of Juan de Fuca; it took us about an hour and forty-five minuets to get to them, any further and they would have been out of reach!

When we arrived on site with the whales all of L-Pod was there! We even saw L-41 traveling with L-77 and her calf as well. The whales were in a tight formation, traveling in what we call a “resting” position. It was great to see them all again after a week without them, and to have the whole pod back is amazing!

Even though we only had a short viewing time since it took us so long to get there, it was a beautiful trip. We had the snow-capped Olympic Mountains as our backdrop, towering upwards as a reminder that land can still be as untamed and wild as the whales we were watching. It was a powerful reminder of how small I really am, but when you’re watching these Orcas swim by so gracefully with the mountains in the distance, it brings out different forms of emotion in us all. It brings out the curiosity, the excitement, and the part of us that is still wild. It brings us together as humans with a common hope to protect the things that are still wild.

It was a fabulous trip, and while our time with the whales was short, it was a time for learning and reflecting and that is priceless.

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

A Sunset of Whales

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Sunset trips happen to be Captain Mike and I’s favorite trips to go out on with our guests. Tonight was great! We left Friday Harbor and went to the south end of San Juan Island, through Cattle Pass and into the Haro Strait. The whales were right off of Eagle Point and were spread out feeding. Mega (L-41) was there, as well as Ocean Sun (L-25) who happens to be the oldest female in L-Pod. These guys seemed to be on a course of their own hunting for the Chinook Salmon they prefer to eat. They were surfacing many times without a consistent path of travel. That however, worked in our favor because we were able to get some great views of the whales!

We also saw three Minke Whales which happen to be one of the smallest baleen whales! The Minkes came awfully close to our boat and were feeding on the large quantity of Krill and Sand Lance in the area. Minkes are pretty small whales at only 25-30 feet long but definitely look very cool up close!

As we headed back to Friday Harbor, the sun was beginning to set. We left the towering dorsal fins in the background to hunt and continue on without us. It was a beautiful scene…very peaceful and calm. I love our evening trips!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Summer Time and the Livin’ Is Easy…With Minke and L Pod Sightings!

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

We brought in the start of a new summer with great weather on the water today! Crew and passengers alike, busted out their shorts and sunscreen while we sped out of Friday Harbor to catch up with some of our favorite summer friends, our resident orcas,  L Pod.  We didn’t have to go far since L Pod was grazing along the west side of San Juan Island searching for their favorite food, Chinook salmon. Chinook salmon makes up 80 percent of resident orcas diet and on average they eat about 200-400 lbs of food a day! Sure is a lot of salmon!

Most of L Pod was spread out along the coastline constantly searching for food to curb that ravenous hunger. And lucky for us, we met up Mega, L-41, and Ocean Sun, L-25, right off of Eagle Point. We were even greeted with Bald Eagle calls in the distance! Mega and Ocean Sun didn’t disappoint our guests today as they slowly meandered along the coastline giving ample opportunities to get great shots of these resident orcas while foraging.

L Pod wasn’t the only type of whale out enjoying the productive waters off San Juan Islands’ coastline. We also got great views of Minke whales not too far away! Minke whales, unlike Orcas, are baleen whales that have bristle-like plates that they use to filter plankton and small fish out of large gulps of seawater. These guys are one of the smaller of the baleen whales, but no less impressive to see at close range. Overall it was a great opportunity to see not one, but two very different types of whales that live right off the coastline of San Juan Island!

Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

A Plethora of Whales!

Friday, June 21st, 2013

It was a beautiful day to be on the water! We left Friday Harbor and headed south through Cattle Pass and into the Haro Strait where we hoped to encounter some whales. On our way out, we came across numerous Harbor Seals that were utilizing the the upwellings created by the tidal current. These upwellings are a great place for the Harbor Seals to forage and we love seeing their little heads bobbing up and down in the water!

When we got on scene with the whales Keven and I quickly identified the whales as the “L-12″ group. My favorite, Mega (L-41), Mystery (L-85) and even Ocean Sun (L-25) who was estimated to be born in 1928! Ocean Sun is the oldest female in L pod; and, as we know, male killer whales will stay with their mother and family group their entire life- they’re big Mamma’s Boys!

Not only did we see our Resident L Pod today, but we also saw a Humpback Whale and Minke Whale foraging! It was great to see such a diversity of whales today, we were all lucky to be on such an amazing tour! All in all, it was a great day!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris